Daniel Eran Dilger
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Please, Apple: Create a Finder Store

Daniel Eran Dilger

Dear Apple: you did something great by creating a marketplace for mobile software in the iPhone App Store. Now bring that to the Mac desktop. Here’s how.

Why the Mac platform needs an app store

The Mac and iPhone platforms are very different. The iPhone sandboxes all third party apps and its doesn’t allow an app to continue on in the background after the user dismisses it using the Home button.

The Mac has a large screen built for windowed multitasking, and apps not only coexist but spawn their own plugins and frameworks and runtimes. There are limited benefits to simply imposing an iPhone model on the Mac, but there are many drawbacks.

For that reason, I’m proposing a limited Mac software store that can do for third party developers what the App Store did for iPhone titles, one that creates markets that currently don’t exist and rewards both developers and users with a functional business model for suppling new software features.

Where the Mac platform needs help

While the original Mac introduced a very different software development model compared to other platforms in the 80s, its software distribution model was not much different from what already existed. Third parties built apps, packaged them in the biggest box possible (to make the software floppies seem more significant and worth the $500), and sold them at retail.

Since then, app developers have struggled to limit casual piracy through efforts such as license keys and online activation. The titles that sell best are typically large and solve an obvious need: Office, Photoshop, FileMaker, iLife. This model isn’t broken enough to fix.

What needs fixing is the vast, untapped potential for building minor software parts, something that currently lacks any sort of real business model. In many ways, these titles are a lot like mobile software: too small to sell at a big price, too easy to copy around to add any sort of meaningful copy protection in the form of license keys, and of too little value for most developers to sell at small prices on their own.

The mini-app market

What these third party developers of minor titles need is exactly what Apple supplies for iPhone App Store developers: marketing, merchandising, retail distribution, upgrade management, and FairPlay copy protection.

Here’s an example: Software Preferences plugins (aka “pref panes”). Few users are likely to have purchased and installed one of these. Essentially, they’re a method for adding some sort of system-wide feature. There isn’t currently much reason for developers to make them, because there isn’t much of a market for selling them.

Bare Bones Software recently created a pref pane called WeatherCal. For $10, it creates an item in System Preferences that lets you set up any number of locations you want to monitor for weather. It then looks up the week’s weather forecast for each of those locations and adds the forecasts to iCal as individual calendars. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, iCal will then sync this information via iTunes. It works in the background, adding new forecast information and removing old information from your calendar.

It’s a clever bit of software, adds a useful feature, costs little, and yet I bet Bare Bones isn’t selling it at all. The problem is that people have to learn about it themselves, they have to navigate to the company’s website to download it, and they have to think about paying $10 for it during the time it takes to place a credit card transaction.

Imagine if System Preferences instead presented you with a listing of pref panes third parties had designed, provided user ratings, and let you buy the ones you wanted for $2-5 from your iTunes account. Bare Bones would be selling far more than five times as many licenses as they currently are.

Other mini apps in search of a market

With such a market in place, System Preferences would need to be redesigned to accommodate the vast number of little pref pane applets being sold. System Preferences would likely need to convert into a iPhone-like display of available little applets.

But System Preferences isn’t the only mini-app repository in Mac OS X. There are plenty of places where little single purpose applets or plugins could be sold for trivial amounts of money, enriching the Mac platform, its developers, and providing users with a wide open new array of options.

Take Dashboard. A flurry of Dashboard widgets appeared after Tiger, but then people got tired of it because there wasn’t much one could really do with many of them. The only business model Apple offered was the idea that Dashboard widgets could be used to add value to existing apps. I’m not entirely sold on the value of Dashboard, but I do think that having a setting for mini apps sporting a graphical interface (in contrast to mostly faceless tasks which can be installed as pref panes) could benefit greatly from a market that allowed widgets to be sold for a few bucks and updated automatically.

Along with Dashboard, Tiger introduced a variety of other plugin hungry apps: Automator, Dictionary, Front Row, Quartz Composer, and Spotlight plugins. Since then, Apple has added Quick Look. Apart from perhaps Automator and Quartz Composer, none of these technologies have really been embraced by any commercial development.

The Finder Store

Imagine if the Finder supplied a searchable listing of plugins you could buy for between a buck and $10:

  • Automator Actions for solving specialized workflow tasks.
  • Foreign language and special use Dictionaries.
  • Front Row modules you could copy over to Apple TV, including HDTV-based games and interactive apps.
  • Quartz Composition packages you could use as filters in Photo Booth or iMovie, in iTunes as music visualizers, or as a Screen Saver.
  • Plugins for specialized Spotlight searching of specific kinds of documents.
  • Quick Look viewers for unique file types, or delivering features Apple’s basic plugins don’t.

Again, Apple’s current business model for delivering all these features is “run with it, developers!” How much better it would be for Apple to say, “here’s a storefront, bring your apps, we’ll pay you 70% of the gross receipts, we’ll handle all of your sales, facilitate upgrades, and provide you with hosted developer support pages.”

There’s also a variety of free plugins that have been created, but that nobody knows about. Apple maintains some lists of software, but many are out of date and only done as a convenience; with free items offered alongside revenue-generating commercial items, Apple would have a financial stake in keeping this software library up to date and complete.

iTunes is busy enough serving up songs, videos, and mobile software. This cries out for a similar Mac Apps store built into the Finder. Apple could also integrate its own Apple Store within the same interface, allowing users to buy cables and printer cartridges and those expensive RAM upgrades the company sells. Conceptually, Apple could also open up the Finder Store to other online merchants, providing an alternative storefront to retailers like Amazon or OfficeMax.

Stay ahead of the curve

I’m not sure that people in general realize what a phenomenal thing Apple accomplished in rolling out the App Store for the iPhone. It’s been over a year and Microsoft is still struggling at getting its own software store doors open. Android has been open for several months, but nobody has been paying it any attention. The same goes for RIM, Palm, and Symbian. There’s no great demand, existing products are all mostly lame, prices are set too high by vendors trying to monetize things in the short term.

This is much more difficult to get right that most people seem to realize. Apple put its considerable experience in selling iTunes content (something that is still unmatched in the industry, a half decade after Apple got started) to work in solving a real problem for mobile software platforms: how do you sell mini-apps?

In Mac OS X, Apple has been cranking out lots of great ideas for plugins… that have really gone nowhere. There are only a few good examples of plugins you might want to buy, and several places you can go searching for free stuff possibly worth downloading, if you can be bothered to look them up. It’s exactly like the smartphone software market prior to the iPhone App Store.

If Apple can apply its experiences with the iPhone App Store to delivering a functional market for these kinds of plugins, it won’t bring in billions but will dramatically set the Mac apart and attract considerable third party talent interested in solving minor little niche needs at a cost millions of Mac users would happily throw down a few bucks to obtain. It will certainly bring in enough money to sustain itself.

If like most Mac users you’re ready to pay $129 every few years for Apple’s “150 new features” in the next reference release of Mac OS X, wouldn’t you be happy to spend several dollars at regular intervals rewarding the efforts of software developers crafting innovative little software solutions to minor problems that $100 monolithic software packages will never address?

Apple and plugins

There are plugins Apple likes and those it doesn’t seem too excited about. On the like side are applet things like Dashboard and Spotlight, which cost the company very little to maintain, and serve as a bullet point marketing feature of Mac OS X.

Apple has created all softs of standardized plugin items in Mac OS X such as Audio Units and Loops, QuickTime component codec plugins, Video Units, Quartz Compositions, and so on. Apple’s Pro Apps group developed FXPlug as a way to create GPU-accelerated feature plugins for Motion and Final Cut, and has also worked to create a plugin ecosystems around Aperture.

There’s also a set of plugins Apple isn’t too keen on. They’re things like Mail.app plugins, Contextual Menu plugins (that got killed in Snow Leopard) and Input Managers (a feature extended by third party hacks resulting in security and reliability problems, and was subsequently killed in Snow Leopard). These things create support problems (as Apple has to maintain and document an API for developers) and don’t generate any revenue or goodwill.

That’s also the reason there’s no Firefox-like plugins for Safari, or ways to patch the Finder to add features Apple didn’t have the time to add. Creating a third party platform is a lot of work. It has to be complete enough to offer developers a decent foundation or they’ll work around it and create terrible things that break when the OS is updated. Ask any old timer about “inits” or System 7 Extensions, or talk to Microsoft. Give third parties enough rope and they’ll hang your platform.

You get what you pay for

Creating a store to support the merchandizing of plugin software would also help support the development work required to offer a plugin architecture in apps like Mail and the Finder, where there are all sorts of issues third parties could address. This kind of work doesn’t happen for free, and the kind of work that does happen without money being involved is often not the kind of work you want running on your production machine.

A Finder Store would help establish a meritocracy where great software bubbles upward, propelled by the dollars of appreciative users. It would outsource the fixing of lots of details Apple doesn’t have the interest in addressing itself. Additionally, it would allow Apple, just like third parties, to offer enhancements on a per-unit basis, selling cheap premium features in order to justify their creation.

Rather than being pressured to invent epic new marketing features for every reference release of Mac OS X, Apple could work on delivering foundational technologies in OS updates that cost closer to $99, and then offer feature packs of individual plugins and apps that each sell for a buck or two. With a third party store, Apple would essentially outsource the creation of lots of “platform added value” to small developers, and reward them with access to its installed base of 30 million Mac users, who are notorious for their software appetite.

What’s required

Apple already knows how to do this. It could simply graft portions of iTunes into the Finder to support a parallel store aimed at Mac users. Dashboard, System Preferences, and perhaps other system software might need to be retrofitted to accommodate the flood of extra software.

Adding support for tying signed, encrypted plugins to a user’s specific set of machines would provide developers with a secure software distribution channel that doesn’t require them to maintain license keys or activation features. It would also allow them to sell their software to individuals at very low prices while also marketing to business users using site or seat licensing.

There’d still be plenty of room for conventional retail boxes like Office and Photoshop and iLife and iWork. But once users got hooked on dropping a few bucks to make their desktop far more customized and useful, harnessing the collective skills of thousands of smart developers, I’d imagine that lots of app developers would want to begin selling their software directly through Apple, saving themselves the work required to deal with customers, refunds, updates, and so on.

Apple could step off the wild marketing roller coaster that accompanies each release of Mac OS X, and devote more effort into building great apps like iWork, developing Apple TV features, and delivering extensible plugin features. Windows developers would flock to the Mac to find eager customers for their special purpose apps that have no likelihood of reaching a supportable user base as $100 retail packages. Open source developers could market their software commercially to reach paying consumers with technology that might otherwise never get finished.

Apple would become the hardware company that tamed software.

  • Brau

    I am reminded of how the TV used to be years ago, when selling points included upgradability or easy part replacement. Today TVs, and most consumer appliances, are now used out of the box with the feature set they came with, then discarded. I see the desktop/laptop moving rapidly in this direction. The iPhone is a good example where no parts are upgradable and the software installation process is taken completely out of the hands of the end user, including OS upgrades. Rather than open a backwards-looking Finder store for legacy products, I believe Apple will follow the lead of the iPhone by building more specific-use products (IE: tablets, etc) which will also offer the promise of greater reliability and security … through limitation, and yes, a growing reliance on iTunes. I can foresee a day when there will be no over the counter box sales of OSX or third party apps downloadable via the internet. Apple will do these things touting security, reliability, and to combat software piracy, but it’s all about control and getting in the middle of the revenue stream. All apps and updates will be limited to only those who own a registered Apple product, by download only from Apple servers, that way the profits can be easily divvied up.
    MicroSoft will be last, of course, trying to pass off their own lack of security, as an assertion of “freedom and openness” but eventually they too will have to follow this model if they want to maximize developer interest and profits.

  • bartfat

    wow daniel. great article, except that you may have forgot the fact that Apple may have already considered this idea in the Apple tablet. Mac OS X as it is is not locked down like the iPhone, so they can’t follow quite the same business model they did there selling apps. There’s an obvious irony to this, because eventually Apple will get us to the trusted computing platform quicker than Microsoft, who was so intent on forcing it on every Windows user and then failed to do so after all the PC manufacturers backed out of the deal.

    So when Apple achieves this nirvana of iPhone-like application-signing on the Mac, that means every application written today is going to be broken until they get their applications signed. You may think that’s an insignificant detail, but it is if there’s ALREADY thousands of shipping third-party products out there. When the App Store launched, there were exactly zero third-party applications on it, so that meant that developers didn’t have to deal with transitioning over to the certificate signing app system from a non-signed app system. Inevitably if they did, there would be mass outrage as to why applications were broken and why Apple would be swamped with apps that they couldn’t approve on time to fix their “broken” third-party applications.

    Which is why I think they’ll either enable it in a new OS version, like 10.7, when they know how to deal with developer concerns better and app approval issues get sorted out. Or they’ll ship something brand new that won’t run plain-vanilla Mac OS and will resemble something more like the iPhone (Apple tablet, maybe?) and enable app signing on that, to test the grounds and waters before stirring up more controversy.

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    Well said. I fully agree.

    The story is about market organization rather than technology in its own right. That’s powerful, and a different way of looking than you will find in most places. It is also quite complicated, it leaves me with a lot of thoughts and analogies that are difficult to find the right words for.

  • http://islandinthenet.com Khürt Williams

    There are already others trying to provide an app store like service. I’ve it used it twice.

    [But none are facilitating mini apps like plugins or pref panes, where the real opportunity lies, something that Apple must integrate onto Mac OS X. They are all in the same boat as pre-iPhone mobile software, as I noted.]

    If Apple were to introduce a locked down app store what would it mean for software like Bodega?

    [I thought I was pretty clear about the real opportunity being plugins, not trying to force Mac apps into the iPhone model. ]

    The cost of developing Mac software is more significant than that for iPhone apps. Would a developer be willing to delay his/her fortunes waiting for Apple to approve his/her app? Could Apple reject an app like Picasa from the “Mac Store” because it duplicates the functionality of iPhoto? Can Apple develop and app that duplicates the functionality of my app and then later remove my app from the store because “customers might be confused”? What happens when a security flaw is discovered in a vendor app? Do I have to wait until Apple approves the update before I can get that patch?

    [Well that would be an improvement over the status quo, which is for users to not know there’s an update. Like pre-iPhone mobile software. ]

    Apps Bodega: http://appbodega.com/

    “the kind of work that does happen without money being involved is often not the kind of work you want running on your production machine.” – I call bullshit on that statement. Without MacFUSE and NTFS-3G I would currently have no way to write to the NTFS formatted drives that I sometimes have to work with. That’s free code (and apps) developed and supported by passionate developers.

    http://www.ntfs-3g.org/ and http://code.google.com/p/macfuse/

    [… “is often.” You forgot that part. It is important, which is why I included it. Don’t ignore words to read a fragile strawman into what I wrote. ]

    The problem with your analysis is that you assume all software produced for a computing platform has a large target audience. I work in the pharma industry and their are apps developed by software vendors where the customers can be counted on one hand. A lot of enterprises have their own internal software development teams. Would they then have to “jail break” their Macs just to
    install these “un-approved apps”?

    [Not based on what I wrote. -Dan]

  • http://www.marketingtactics.com davebarnes

    Great idea.

  • MipWrangler

    Nice analysis Dan! I have been expecting Apple to role something like this out since the announcement of the AppStore. Applications and Dashboard widgets seemed obvious since (sandbox aside) it isn’t much different than iPhone apps, but extending this to other mini-apps like pref-panes and plugins to other core services is very clever. I think you’ve mentioned before that the largest appeal to developers of this arrangement is the ability to develop software without the overhead of building an organization to market and distribute software. As a developer myself I totally agree with you, the prospect of being able to focus on building great software and leaving the sales and distribution to apple is very appealing!

    @Brau, you have a good point. It will be interesting to see if the general purpose machine survives. I suspect it will at least in some spaces. For example, it’s hard to imagine being able to develop new software on a restricted system like you describe. I also agree with your point about the cost/concern about moving software over to conform to Apple’s acceptance criteria (whatever they are), but I think the benefit of having your app show up for sale on every Mac would be a huge improvement in market exposure and would make it well worth the effort for most developers!

  • Dorotea

    Great article. In many ways I think you are right, that a new ability to find Mac Apps would be great.

    Maybe Apple needs to build/buy a lesser known search engine for search capability within its own store.

  • REM

    Great analysis something I think that Apple has learned.
    I wonder if that is what Apple is thinking about with their new facility in North Carolina.

  • MipWrangler

    @REM, interesting thought. Apps for a Mac may tend to be much larger than those found on the iPhone (not always of course). Perhaps this is what is holding back this type of distribution system for the Mac. Though most applications would still be much smaller than an average video, so perhaps bandwidth really isn’t an issue – who knows.

  • gus2000

    Daniel, you’ve been promoting the Finder Store for some time now, even before the iPhone was announced. It’s logical but there are several challenges:

    1. Apple’s priorities. They must choose their projects carefully and avoid over-reaching, lest all projects suffer. Should they have developed the Finder Store before the iPhone App Store?

    2. Partner backlash. The “Finder Store” will eventually start cutting into the business of other stores (such as Amazon) who are selling other Apple products. Apple’s retail presence offers protection, but they do benefit by having their products widely available.

    3. Customer expectation. People accustomed to the iPhone software model will expect this to be just as easy. They might even start to think that Photoshop should cost $5 and get updated once a month.

    So I’m sure that Apple has considered a “Mac App Store” already (or at least they read your 2006 article!) but making it all “just work” will require considerable and broad effort as you suggest. The issue is one of capacity and priority.

  • http://twitter.com/NateTehGreat nat

    Nice idea Dan.

    On a slightly unrelated note, I’m really curious about what transitioning the App Store to WebKit could mean if/when it happens, both for customer and developers. It seems all but certain given the much more useable Music, Movies and TV Show areas of the iTunes Store that are now made with open web standards and can be viewed in a web browser like Safari.

    Could it, for instance, enable interactive App pages akin to iTunes LPs/Extras except its in the Store itself, perhaps allowing the user to try out apps and games in a virtual onscreen iPhone, using the rumored multitouch mouse on desktops and existing multitouch trackpads on MacBooks (which were enabled for all past models in Snow Leopard)?

    Could it require a new app submission system, which would result in the retiring of iTunes Connect? Could such a system check if an app is working (like Google’s Android Market does and which I’m guessing iTunes Connect does not), lowering the amount of time the app review process requires?

    Could it allow developers to easily respond to user-submitted app reviews, asking the user for more information about what problems they’re having? Could this forum-like structure be expanded to all users, so they could respond to other users asking for help?

    Just some thoughts.

  • lahaina

    I think it might be okay if Apple did this, although I think it’s inevitable for them to vet applications and reject some amidst painful and embarrassing controversy. I am a MacUpdate subscriber and it seems to me that they could do a little programming to make this work and make a lot more money. It is already pretty efficient to use if you are clever with search techniques. Same with Versiontracker. IUseThis is another possibility. Maybe a combination of such sites would be even better, providing a little healthy competitions and some more options for developers.

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  • ChuckO

    I think your dead right here. I bought an app called “Song Sergeant” for fixing iTunes ($20) that I saw reviewed and it was great. If I could find things like that in iTunes (Mac version of course) would be pretty cool. If the price was less due to greater exposure that much better.

  • http://www.cyclelogicpress.com Neil Anderson

    They’d need a huge new data centre somewhere to pull this off. Like North Carolina.

  • lmasanti

    “Maybe Apple needs to build/buy a lesser known search engine for search capability within its own store.”

    Could Spotlight be that capability?

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  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    The thing is that while Apple is growing in its role as a platform manager it is more and more (forced to) behave like a government. The benefit of the App Store is that it is protecting both the interests of developers (no illegal copies) and consumers (no malware, app is basically doing what it promises). Where the line between the interests is becoming unclear Apple has to erect kind of a juridical system and like a judge pronounce a jurisdiction. Both developers and consumers ask for fair and clear rules. Basically that’s what a modern government is doing to its subjects: safeguarding that the subjects don’t mistreat each other and get a fair compensation for their achievements.

    The analogy that keeps coming to me mind is the introduction of the Bill of Rights by William and Mary in 1689 in England (which also formed an important foundation for the American constitution). The Bill of Rights arranges (among others) the protection of property, which seems pretty obvious today but wasn’t at that time.
    Before 1689 a King would be free to raise any taxes he wanted (why not, he was the King?). The consequence was that if anyone had a well profitable venture the King would raise the taxes and take the profit. (maybe early because he needed the money, maybe later because he was afraid of the increasing power of the entrepreneur).
    There have been trade and crafts all through human history but only up to a certain point, up to the point where the local king could understand and control what was going on. So beyond that point it was never worthwhile to invest in further refinement of the technology.
    Previously it was largely assumed the Industrial Revolution was caused by improved technology (i.e. the Steam Engine) but this point of view has been falsified: technological advancement has been much further in other ages and continents (like China) than in 18th Century England. Historians have been puzzling ever since about what caused the Industrial Revolution.

    It appears to me (well, maybe a wild thought) that the basic principle that is behind the success of the App Store is the same principle that is behind the success of the Industrial Revolution. You call it a meritocracy, a well thought set of rules that make sure the (larger part of) the benefits of a rewarding innovation goes to the inventor/investor so that the investment becomes worthwhile and further innovation is encouraged. In both cases it has been a very powerful principle. So maybe indeed you can say: “It all happened before.”

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter

    Hah. Already been done. See the Add-Remove programs button in Ubuntu. And now Canonical is coming out with a version for paid apps as well.

    Apple should have been miles ahead on this, I don’t understand why they haven’t upgraded ITunes to handle things for the Mac they way they have for the IPhone. There must be a reason that I can’t think of, or they would have done so. Wonder what it is?

  • http://www.itraining.com.au itraining

    Brilliant idea Dan. Lets hope they are onto it.

    I can only imagine a day when I open “Software Update” and I can install updaters for ALL my apps, utilities, pref panes, widgets and everything else. One simple interface to rule them all. Instead of the current mess using “Software Update” for the Apple stuff, every other utility reminding you about an update each time you launch it and don’t get me started on the #$%&^! Adobe updaters!

    Maybe Apple can have a Bootcamp/VMWare/Parallels section and sell dark side apps too, without mentioning the word Windows at the store front.

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  • Brau

    @ Berend

    “Historians have been puzzling ever since about what caused the Industrial Revolution.”

    Thanks for that post. You gave me a lot to think about.

    To my mind, the revolution began with the Romans and the advent of democratic values that leveraged the ingenuity of the common man rather than limiting education to the elite. Some of the largest technical contributions came from the Roman era (concrete, advanced metallurgy, chemistry, etc) but despite Rome’s fall, the concepts they fomented lived on. The practice of controlling and manipulating the masses lived on through the use of the Roman Catholic church, that for the first time placed a religious figure (the Pope) under direct state control. History has documented quite well how kings abused this newfound power. The Roman technical advances lived on as well (smithing, masonry, construction, sewage and water infrastructures,) and I believe the advent of the steam train in the 1800s would never have been possible if not for their previous discoveries. (Although I personally believe the telegraph was the massive technical leap that allowed Britain to rule the world by allowing them almost instant strategic communication).

    The problem for any dictatorship is that the quest for more power ultimately means educating more people, and the more educated people are, the more they want to control their own destiny (democracies). The problem for the common man is becoming a powerful enough voice to overcome dictators, kings and regimes that prefer to use their power to keep them down.

    As I see it, the key to industrial revolution is in the education of the masses, not the presence of specific technical advancements. Massive technical revolution is not feasible in an uneducated society. As we look around the world today, massive industrial revolutions are again under way in many countries. The countries that have been slowest to change have been the oldest, most well established societies, held back from change by oppressive social/religious/tribal regimes that conspire to deny education to much of their population. China, India, the Middle East, all have this in common. Once these social barriers begin to break, the revolution cannot be held back.

    Now I’m no historian, but I know enough of the dark ages to know they kept power in part by keeping education segregated, that is, if you were born into a family of masons … well that’s all you would ever know and be. However, by the 19th century I’m aware they had a two tier education system whereby all children were selected for either academic or trade schools (of course the wealthy kids all went to academic schools). I don’t know, but suspect modest educational changes occurred sometime prior to, or just after Queen Victoria’s “ten year grieving” period, the moment in time it all changed.

    Can I relate any of this to Apple?

    Well, I’m glad to be living in this era, but as you noted, a new status quo (meritocracy) is growing that our children may someday war against. It will be one of corporations and puppet governments that conspire to overuse their power to once again limit the public. Some look at Apple’s control and see this harbinger coming, but Apple is only a miniscule player in a much larger trend spanning the entire globe.

    As for me, I gotta love today’s freedom. If someday I don’t like Apple’s controls, I can stop buying Apple products.

  • danviento5

    As someone who has bought a decent handful of these mini apps and scripts, I really don’t see the consumer’s need for a store like this.

    Apple does have the downloads section of its site. True, it could be designed better, but it does introduce people to applicable software. For most of my stuff, I found info on software products to fix my problems in a google search or through Macworld reviews.

    There are plenty of well-known resources for Mac software reviews and uses. Up until now, Apple hasn’t been the vehicle for advertising third party software. The App Store may be a humongous success thanks to Apple’s notoriety and popularity of the iPhone. I think they viewed its promotion as a key to selling more iPhones/iPodTouches.

    Would sales of such mini apps sell more macs? Let me phrase the question this way: Do people still believe that macs lack the capability or running software they need now and new stuff in the future?

    Most of the younger demographic (under 30) probably don’t have that mentality, especially all of these college kids buying (or having their parents buy) mac notebooks. Not to mention emulators that let you run windows software while using Mac OS blow the lack-of-software detractor out of the water. For instance, when I told my wife, Mac-hater-for-life, that she could boot windows on a mac notebook, she was only a hair from going for the Macbook when it came time to replace her broken machine.

    People who buy actual computing machines buy them with a pre-determined purpose in mind. True, Apple has managed to get people to branch out into a ‘digital lifestyle’ with its own suite of apps, but when it comes to family and business use, people normally know what they want at the selling point. The iPhone and iTouch with their apps come across as a novelty device and use of apps isn’t usually predetermined, aside from corporate apps and installments.

    I don’t think Apple needs apps to sell more macs- the OS and notoriety of the hardware is enough for that, not to mention the further bloopers of windows os we’ve been seeing lately.

    While an Apple mini software store would be useful for developers, I can’t see it becoming all that necessary to sell mac hardware, so I can’t see Apple seeing a large enough benefit to invest that kind of R&D budget.

  • jmckell

    I read the article in the morning. It really hit some good points. I like the commentary as well. Then I read an article on Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/216788/page/2) that just kinda put things in a different perspective. Is anyone besides software development companies making money on the iPhone app store? I think the distro model is great, personally. We will see what happens with the new Windows Mobile Marketplace and some of the others out there. I’d like to see more opportunities for entrepreneurs out there, but it looks like there’s no easy road to success through these app stores.

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  • rmanke

    The biggest issue holding Apple back from a Mac App store, is having to be responsible for apps causing system crashes, viruses, or system instability.

    The MacOS is not a locked-down system, and there are way too many variables to be able to properly test many of the apps you mention.

    That’s precisely why Apple will test this model with “content” like magazines and videos on the Apple Tablet. Content won’t affect stability as would a system preference or a plug-in.

    Just one example: I got a digital camera several years ago, and it came with a codec for QuickTime to play its movies. Well, once it was installed, ALL of my quicktime related apps experienced reliability problems and crashes. CODECs are “supposed” to be isolated so they don’t affect each other in theory, but in reality it affected the stability of my computer. Figuring out what happened took a lot of time as well…

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  • super_mario

    I really really hope this never happens. The temptation for Apple to start controlling what can or can not be installed (look at iPhone) on my general purpose computer is just too great. And that would be the death of OS X eco system and not a revival.

    Right now AT&T has a huge influence over Apple. AT&T doesn’t like people using VOIP apps on iPhone. No problem, just tell Apple to disable such apps and not make them available in the store.

    [Sorry, that’s not true. VoIP has always been allowed on the iPhone, just not initially over AT&T’s mobile network. AT&T has great influence over the iPhone market because it stepped forward to underwrite the ambitious goal of revolutionizing the data-centric smartphone.

    The company worked with Apple to hold back some data-intensive apps that its network simply couldn’t support. Since then, within about a year of the App Store being open, AT&T has opened up to VoIP apps using its mobile network. That was likely in response to public pressure, which is how things should work. None of this has any relevance to the Mac market, which is not subsidized by a third party network provider.]

    You have a cheap alternative to Photoshop. Well, Adobe doesn’t like it, and since Apple would be making a cut of the profits on all sales (after all it makes sense since they provide distribution service) it is in their interest to listen to Adobe when they say you should not be allowed to distribute your app through the app store.

    [We already have cheap alternatives to Photoshop. Apple already has reasons to cater to Adobe so that it does not abandon the Mac. Yet Apple competes with Adobe directly (LightRoom vs Aperture, Elements vs iPhoto), so your conspiracy theory about slippery slopes is just conjecture.

    Also, in the App Store, Apple would seem to have reason to stomp out indie games to make way for its big partners like EA (which have churned out some crap games bested by small developers). That hasn’t happened either.]

    Another problem with this is barrier to entry. Right now if I want to make a “script” and charge $1 for it I can. But if I have to sign for developer program with Apple and pay a yearly $150 fee, I would think twice about signing up just to sell my $1 script.

    [You miss the point that this does not require that all apps be signed. Apple could create sandboxes of content that run signed content from the store, while still running existing stuff. You can have DRM without requiring that all content be signed. Look at iTunes: it can play video from your camcorder as well as Disney movies you buy. There is not exclusive either/or problem. ]

    This is just so wrong and such a bad idea and I”m speaking here as a user and software developer.

    It really would be the beginning of the end of general computing on Apple hardware.

    [Sounds scary, but so does any change. The problem with your outlook is that you are looking at something very different than I described. This isn’t about locking down the Mac desktop to only run App Store software; it’s about creating a business model to support specific types of software that currently have no vehicle to drive them anywhere.

    How many useful Spotlight/Quick Look plugins can one find? Maybe a half dozen? With a business model, we could have a wide variety of cheap, high-quality plugins to fit very specific needs. Users could demand things that would never occur without the money to fund them. That’s what this is all about – Dan ]